Europe completes historic comeback to win Ryder Cup

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Europe completes historic comeback to win Ryder Cup

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Erasing some of their worst Ryder Cup memories, the Europeans wore the image of Seve Ballesteros on their sleeves and played their hearts out Sunday at Medinah to match the greatest comeback in history and head home with that precious gold trophy.

Europe got its payback for Brookline, when the Americans roared back from the same 10-6 deficit. This rally was even more remarkable, carried out before a raucous American crowd that began their chants of "USA!" some three hours before the first match got under way.

Jose Maria Olazabal squeezed his eyes and fought back tears when Martin Kaymer holed a 6-foot par putt to beat Steve Stricker and give Europe the point it needed to keep the cup. This was the first Ryder Cup since Ballesteros, the soul of European golf in this event, died in May 2011 of a brain tumor. Olazabal wanted his team to wear navy blue, Seve's favorite color, and added a clever touch -- his iconic silhouette on the sleeves of their shirts.

"This one is for all of Europe," Olazabal said. "Seve will always be present with this team. He was a big factor for this event for the European side, and last night when we were having that meeting, I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing. And I think they did."

Tiger Woods missed a 3-foot par putt on the 18th hole, and then conceded a par to Francesco Molinari of about that length to halve their match. That extra half-point made it a clear-cut win for Europe, 14-13.

Woods and Stricker, the anchors in the lineup, didn't win a single match at Medinah.

Ian Poulter was the first to embrace Olazabal, which was only fitting.

It was Poulter who gave Europe hope Saturday evening when he made five straight birdies to turn a loss into a win and swing momentum in Europe's favor. Poulter was up to his fist-pumping, eye-bulging tricks again on the final day, winning the last two holes in his match against U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson.

And he had plenty of help. Europe's top five players in the lineup all won, including Rory McIlroy, who was lucky to be playing. McIlroy thought his match was at 12:25 p.m. -- it was listed in Eastern time, not Central -- and needed a police escort to get to the course with 10 minutes to spare. Then, he came up with key birdies to hand Keegan Bradley his first loss of the week.

The biggest match might have belonged to Justin Rose. He was on the verge of losing to Phil Mickelson when Rose holed a 12-foot par putt to halve the 16th, made a 35-foot birdie putt from the back of the 17th green to win the hole, and then closed out Mickelson with a 12-foot birdie on the last hole.

Six of the 12 matches went to the 18th hole on Sunday. The Americans won only one of them.

The Americans also rallied from a four-point deficit to win in 1999 at Brookline. This was different, though. The Americans won big in those early matches. At Medinah, so many of them could have gone either way.

It was so close, so tense, that either side could have won the Ryder Cup down to the very end.

Stricker made an 8-foot par putt on the 18th, and Kaymer faced a par putt from 6 feet to win the match. If he missed, the Americans would get a half-point, and Woods was leading 1-up over Molinari and in the middle of the 18th fairway.

Kaymer, a former No. 1 and major champion who has struggled all year, poured it in the middle and the celebration was on.

He could barely speak at this point, not so much from pure emotion but having to scream over the crowd behind him. Players were hugging and crying, and the small European contingent that had been drowned out all week was serenading themselves with what has become the theme song of the Ryder Cup.

"Ole, ole, ole, ole," they sang merrily, even as the teams prepared for the closing ceremony.

Europe now has won seven of the last nine Ryder Cups, and even more remarkable about this comeback is that it did it on the road.

Davis Love III became the first U.S. captain to sit every player at least once before Sunday, wanting them to be fresh for the decisive day. Instead, the Americans faltered at the end -- especially Jim Furyk and Stricker, two of his captain's picks.

"The plan worked the first two days," he said. "It just didn't work today."

The only U.S. points came from Dustin Johnson, who went 3-0 in this Ryder Cup, Zach Johnson and unheralded Jason Dufner.

"We're all kind of stunned," Love said. "We know what it feels like now from the '99 Ryder Cup. It's a little bit shocking. We were playing so well, we figured it didn't matter how we sent them out there. We got a couple of matches flipped there in the middle that cost us."

Love thought all along the Ryder Cup would be decided in the ninth match by Dufner. It was most appropriate that Europe won the cup thanks to Kaymer.

Kaymer gave German golf some redemption from Kiawah Island in 1991, when countryman Bernhard Langer missed a par putt from about the same length that allowed the Americans to win.

"It's a feeling I never had before," Kaymer said. "On Friday, I sat down with Bernhard and talked a little bit about the Ryder Cup because my attitude was not the right one. But now I know how important the Ryder Cup is."

It means everything to Europe, and it showed.

They didn't have a home crowd to rally them, relying instead on the silence.

"Last time it was done, it was the American team in America," Lee Westwood said after closing out Matt Kuchar in 16 holes. "This would be against all odds. This would be the greatest comeback in the Ryder Cup -- ever."

And it was a collapse the Americans won't soon forget. Just 24 hours earlier, they had a 10-4 lead with two team matches still on the course -- they were ahead in one of them, while Woods and Stricker were closing in on the other. It's hard to believe they would only win 3 points the rest of the way.

Europe came out fast, and for McIlroy, that started at his hotel.

He was leisurely heading out of the hotel -- thinking that his tee time was an hour later than it was -- when he got a frantic call to tell him his match was in 25 minutes. McIlroy was lucky to run into the police, who helped him get to Medinah with enough time to change his shoes, take a few putts and head to the tee box.

He never trailed in his match, making two straight birdies late to knock off Bradley.

"It's my own fault," McIlroy said. "If I let down these 11 other boys and vice captains and captains this week, I would never forgive myself. I'm just obviously happy to get the point and help the cause out a little bit today."

Everyone pitched in.

Luke Donald, who makes Chicago his home and had a small share of gallery support, overwhelmed Bubba Watson despite being some 50 yards behind him off the tee. Paul Lawrie, returning to the Ryder Cup after a 13-year absence, had the shortest match of the day against FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker. Poulter outlasted Simpson when the U.S. Open champion hit into a bunker on the 17th and made bogey, and then hit well long on the 18th when he needed a birdie to halve the match.

Still, the key point might have been delivered by Rose.

Mickelson surged ahead with a birdie on the 14th and still had a 1-up lead on the 17th. Behind the green, Mickelson hit a chip that looked like it might go in until the last turn. He was certain to make par. Rose drained his 35-footer to square the match, then finished off the birdie-birdie finish to a point Europe wasn't expecting.

"I was shaking a little bit and I said to myself, 'Rosey, this is what the whole week could come down to for you,'" he said. "Coming off the green here, I've looked down on my left sleeve, and that's the kind of thing Seve would have done for sure."

Jack Nicklaus first suggested in 1977 that all of Europe be included in the Ryder Cup, which brought the great Ballesteros into the matches. He was determined to prove that Europeans were equal to the Americans, and they have shown to be every bit of that over the last three decades.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Fire's Brandon Vincent trying to 'enjoy the moment' at MLS All-Star Game

Fire's Brandon Vincent trying to 'enjoy the moment' at MLS All-Star Game

All-star games always come with extra hoopla and attention and bring the biggest stars together in one place for a few days.

The national soccer media has descended upon San Jose for the MLS All-Star Game, which will take place Thursday. For Chicago Fire rookie defender Brandon Vincent, who was selected to the MLS All-Stars, he gets to fly a bit under the radar.

“I’m not one of the superstars so I’m not one of the top guys for the media, but there has been a lot of fanfare,” Vincent said. “I had a couple appearances out playing soccer tennis with a couple fans. It’s been great. Having the open training in front of the fans has been really cool.”

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For Vincent, the trip to San Jose is a bit of a homecoming as well. Vincent just completed a standout four-year career at Stanford in the fall, capped off by a national title. He said he has seen some friends and that his family will be in town for the game.

“This is my first go at a big thing like this,” Vincent said. “It’s a lot to take in. Obviously I’m really lucky to be a part of it and it’s really exciting and I’m happy to be here.”

The MLS All-Stars have had two training sessions ahead of Thursday’s game against Arsenal. This meant Vincent has been training alongside Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa among other MLS stars.

“I’ve pinched myself sometimes seeing these players who are absolutely legendary players and world-class,” Vincent said. “It’s pretty crazy to think that I’ve grown up watching these guys on TV and I get to take the field with them one time. It’s amazing.”

Because Vincent is a rookie this can be viewed as more of a learning experience. At least that’s how Fire coach Veljko Paunovic has talked about his left back’s selection.

“It’s a great achievement and we are very happy for him to be there,” Paunovic said. “It’s going to help him also having that experience to learn from, the more experienced guys on the All-Star team.

“The only thing is that whatever minutes (he plays are) for him and for us to build his overall performance, his experience and become the player that we are all looking for.”

Paunovic said he spoke with Dom Kinnear, who is coaching the All-Stars, on Monday during meetings in San Jose. Paunovic didn’t want to influence Kinnear’s decision on how much to play Vincent. Vincent said the players haven’t heard much about how much they will play other than that there will be a lot of rotation as they game goes on.

The All-Star nod goes along with Vincent’s recent senior national team call up and appearance back in early February. Comparing the two is tough, but Vincent was able to break it down.

“The national team has been something that’s been a dream of mine so getting that call up was I think the biggest, but this has been just as cool honestly,” he said. “I had no idea this was coming. It was such a pleasant surprise that I can’t help but enjoy it and enjoy the moment.”

Trying to make sense of Aroldis Chapman’s lost-in-translation rollout with Cubs

Trying to make sense of Aroldis Chapman’s lost-in-translation rollout with Cubs

Aroldis Chapman lost the press conference, which won’t matter if the Cubs win the World Series. That’s the calculated decision chairman Tom Ricketts, team president Theo Epstein and their inner circle made in trading for the 105-mph closer from the New York Yankees.

But Chapman’s lost-in-translation introduction to the Chicago media (and, by extension, the fans) should force the Cubs – and anyone covering the team – to reassess that system-wide failure.

That’s not diminishing the seriousness of the allegations Chapman faced after a domestic dispute in South Florida last October, leading to a 30-game suspension to start this season. Or completely falling for the sleepy/nervous defense presented after Chapman – under repeated questioning – said he had no recollection of the off-the-field expectations Ricketts outlined during that phone call the Cubs absolutely needed before closing the deal with the Yankees.

Major League Baseball required all teams to hire a Spanish-language translator this season, and the Cubs deployed quality-assurance coach Henry Blanco, a widely respected former big-league catcher who doesn’t have any real experience handling such a sensitive media session. This wasn’t asking Jorge Soler about a hamstring injury or a game-winning home run. Chapman’s agent, Barry Praver, watched the entire scene unfold in the visiting dugout on Tuesday afternoon before a crosstown game against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

ESPN’s Pedro Gomez – who asked the only question in Spanish during the group scrum – then got a one-on-one interview with Chapman that yielded more insight into the player and the conversation with ownership. 

“I really don’t know what happened there,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “Whether it was miscommunication (or he was) misunderstood, I don’t know.

“That’s already over. We got to move in a different direction. Whatever happened yesterday, we just want to be on the positive side and move forward.”

Ricketts – who released a statement when the trade became official on Monday afternoon and appeared on the team’s flagship radio station (WSCR-AM 670) on Tuesday morning – declined to comment when approached by reporters before another crosstown game on Wednesday at Wrigley Field: “I think we’ve said enough this week.”

At a time when newspapers are diminished and old/new media is fracturing, there simply aren’t enough Spanish speakers within the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Chapman – an All-Star performer who is 28 years old and has been in the big leagues since 2010 – doesn’t really speak any English and grew up within a society that most of us will never understand.

Even for native speakers and proficient translators, there are linguistics variations in Spanish and wide cultural gaps among those born in Cuba (Chapman and Soler), Venezuela (Blanco and Montero) and the Dominican Republic. There are also fundamental personality differences, with Chapman being described as an observer, quiet and withdrawn during his time with the Cincinnati Reds.

While the talkative Montero, 33, didn’t know any English when he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a teenager, he picked up enough of the language to become a translator for teammates by the end of his rookie-ball season in Missoula, Montana.

“I just kept on practicing, asking questions,” Montero said. “I remember people laughing about my accent or whatever. And I never really cared. That’s what a lot of Latin guys get intimidated by, because they don’t want people to make fun of them. That’s why they get intimidated. That’s why they don’t learn.

“That wasn’t my problem. I didn’t care if you laughed. I didn’t care about any of that, because this is not my language, you know? It’s something that I (was) learning and I became fairly good. Good enough.”

That’s why Montero can understand MLB’s directive to hire translators and still see the limitations.

“It’s OK,” Montero said. “But on the other hand, I feel like it’s important for us to learn the language. Not only as a player, but when your career’s over, you’re bilingual. You can actually use it for different areas (of your life) later on.

“That was my biggest goal. If I didn’t make it to the big leagues, at least I’m going to be bilingual, and I can do something because it’s productive for any other job.”

Chapman has one job between here and October – to win the franchise’s first World Series in more than a century – and that success or failure is how he will ultimately be remembered in Chicago.

Cut-fastball key to Miguel Gonzalez's improvement with White Sox

Cut-fastball key to Miguel Gonzalez's improvement with White Sox

Miguel Gonzalez has thrown his cut-fastball more in July than ever before.

The White Sox pitcher thinks the way its complements his repertoire has been critical to his most consistent month in the majors since 2014.

Not only is he 1-2 with a 2.76 ERA in five starts in July, but Gonzalez has increased his strikeout rate by three percent with 26 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings.

The improvement has helped Gonzalez, who next starts Saturday at Minneapolis, develop into either a good back-end rotation option for the White Sox and perhaps even a trade chip. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the Miami Marlins scouted Gonzalez on Monday when he outpitched Jake Arrieta.

“It has been helping me this year,” Gonzalez said. “Hitters see a fastball out of the hand and at the end it’s already on them. That’s been a big change for me and it’s helping a lot. I’ve been seeing better results.”

His catchers have seen a dramatic increase in the number of cutters Gonzalez has thrown. In four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Gonzalez threw 19 cutters. The pitch is a staple for White Sox hurlers under Don Cooper and Gonzalez took his regular slider and started to throw it harder once he signed a minor-league deal with them in April.

So far this month, Gonzalez has thrown the cutter 119 times, which accounts for 24.59 percent of his pitches, according to brooksbaseball.net. Batters have hit .188 and are slugging just .313.

“It made sense to where if I throw a fastball inside, located, and then I throw that cutter, it’s going to make it a lot harder for a lefty, or a righty, to react on,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve seen swings where they get jammed or break a bat or they swing and miss because they think it’s a fastball and it’s three or four miles an hour slower.”

Always more of a contact pitcher, the addition has -- in the short term -- increased Gonzalez’s strikeout rate to near league average. Before July, Gonzalez struck out 17.1 percent of the batters he had faced in his career. This month, the rate is 20.2 percent.   

Cooper is pleased with the development of Gonzalez. He’s also not surprised to find that Gonzalez’s name has appeared in recent Hot Stove chatter along with James Shields, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, among others.

“Every year this comes up,” Cooper said. “It’s not the first time. People come and go. Trades do happen. Heck, when (Mark) Buehrle left that was a tough one because that was 10 years there. So if Buehrle can leave,anybody can leave. I’ve always said the names change, but the job doesn’t.”

Gonzalez is happy with his current location. He didn’t know what to expect with the White Sox when he signed in April. Suffice it to say, the experience has been better than he could have hoped.

“When you have a free mind, stress free, and you’re on a new team, new environment, things tend to change a little bit and in a good way,” Gonzalez said. “That’s how I feel. I feel comfortable with the team. They welcomed me and now it’s paying off. Hopefully we can get into a nice little stretch and win, a little streak going. That’s what we need right now.”